Natai Beach, Phang Nga, Thailand: This year of adventure and discovery ends where it began, on this gorgeous stretch of beach facing the Andaman sea. Nine months ago when I was last at my Thai residence I launched this blog, plotted my cycling route across Europe, and conducted due diligence on Yaowawit, the Thai Student Academy for which I went the distance. Sitting in the balmy April weather, then it was all so abstract, so speculative, as I imagined how I might get from one side of Europe to another, and privately wondered: could I, would I, should I?
After pedaling across my second continent in as many years it’s befitting that I end the year where this journey began. At home in Thailand. It’s been quite a home-coming.
Two days ago the leaders of Yaowawit, Sabine and Bill, paid a visit. In what is becoming a tradition on Natai beach, I organized a gathering for our burgeoning beach community and about twenty neighbors came over for wine and cheese and to hear from Sabine and Bill about the good work they’re doing at Yaowawit. Later that evening over dinner I shared some of my European war stories. I have many.
Yesterday my friend Dave and I cycled to Yaowawit, which is 69 kilometers (one-way) from my residence along hilly country roads and dense green jungle. This was an impromptu ride, inspired somewhere between the main course and desert the prior evening. On the way naturally we were chased by a few dogs. Naturally, I barked back.
Dave and I were greeted by scores of happy and healthy and energetic Yaowawit kids, all dressed in school uniform and eager to show me a thank you poster they created. It was a touching occasion and arriving at Yaowawit by bicycle a fitting home-coming, the perfect cap for TransEuropa 2011.
We showed Dave around the Yaowawit campus then had a delicious Thai lunch with Sabine and Bill. Then a special Yaowawit assembly was called and I stood before all the 100+ children and spoke about my experiences in cycling across Europe on their behalf, and how it wasn’t always easy or fun. Then the hands came up for questions, and the questions kept coming. I was impressed by the maturity and by the curiosity of the questions. Some of my favorites: What breed of dogs chased me? Did I see any snakes? Where did I sleep and eat? Did I cycle at night? Why do I like to cycle, anyway? The kids’ exuberance reminded me why I endured all those kilometers, all those mountains, all those wrong turns, and all that crappy weather to get from Lisbon to Istanbul.
After the Assembly Dave and I then hopped on the bikes for the return journey home. Of the many things I have learned this year, the joy of coming home is one of the great lessons 0f 2011. Especially when there’s a precious little boy waiting for you, ready to go ride the waves.